Money-losing Virgin America won’t stop fighting

Left Field’s very first guest blogger just got off the phone with Dave Cush, the head of Virgin America. The startup was just forced to release financial data it wanted to keep secret, but our guest, Air Transport Intelligence US Editor Lori Ranson, was able to get Cush to open up in an entry she calls ‘Burlingame Confidential.’ That’s the San Francisco suburb where Virgin is based.


Virgin America CEO Dave Cush says he is not deterred; he’ll continue his fight to keep the carrier’s operating data confidential even as it was forced to release data showing a $175 million loss for three quarters of 2008.  Virgin America began its campaign to keep its operating data confidential after suffering a $35 million loss for the quarter ending in September. But Cush believes that it was disruptive to

both suppliers and employees for that info to reach public hands, he said  last year. He might have added Virgin’s competitors, including American, United, Southwest and JetBlue – who no doubt are now pouring over Virgin America’s operational data. A quick snapshot of the data released by the US government shows Virgin America had $25 million on cash at the end of September and roughly $105 million in assets. Top performing markets in terms of total passengers for January-October 2008 were Los Angeles at 34.9 million and Las Vegas at 33.8 million. Total passenger count in Seattle, which was only launched last year, reached 24.5 million – ahead of the 23.5 million in its home base in San Francisco.



Cush is broadening the scope of his confidentiality battle through attempts to persuade the new administration of President Obama to reverse “this astounding policy.” He says the likes of Wal-Mart or Best Buy don’t have to offer similar data. So, he asks, why should airlines? He’s adamant that forcing carriers to file this level of data for public consumption is a holdover from a regulated era.

Ironically enough, Cush says his former employer, American Airlines, was a driving force in petitioning that the data become public. When questioned whether he was directly involved in the campaign


he quips, “It wasn’t me.” Although Cush says the last administration was sympathetic to Virgin America’s argument of keeping competitive data under wraps and the regulators simply “ran out of time,” it’s anyone’


s guess what happens now.

Astute industry observers know head-butting between Virgin America and the US Department of Transportation is nothing new. The carrier had claw its way to certification by the federal agency, with its first CEO, Fred Reid, agreeing to leave the job to satisfy labor objections less than a year after Virgin America finally made its debut.

Foot-dragging by DOT last year in ruling on the carrier’s appeal of the agency’s initial rejection of requested confidentiality essentially exempted Virgin America from publishing the data until the agency finally upheld its decision.

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